Thursday, February 09, 2006
They weren't exactly the Boston Red Sox, but close. The 2005/06 Pittsburgh Steelers did what no NFL team had ever done: just when it looked they weren't even going to make the playoffs, they won eight straight games, including three playoff games and the Super Bowl, to become NFL champions.
So for the first time since the four championships of the 1970s, the Steelers were world famous. At least at the highest level, for there are Steelers fans all over the world. Over a billion people worldwide watched them win on Sunday. Except for the final episode of M*A*S*H (back when there were but 3 networks), more people in the U.S. watched this Super Bowl than any other program in history. Seattle has fans abroad, in Japan and other parts of Asia in particular. But you have to believe that most of the global interest was in the Steelers.
This team was unique: with veteran leadership (Jerome Bettis, beloved by teammates and Pittsburgh fans), uniquely talented young plays (Ben Roethislberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl; defensive wizard Troy Palamalu) and players on both sides of the ball in the prime of their careers (like wide receivers Hines Ward and A. Randle-el.)
They didn't play their best game, the stars did not all shine, but they won as a team, because they play for the team: and so many made an outstanding play at just the right time.
The Pittsburgh community loves them for their involvement and general good citizenship, starting at the top (owner Dan Rooney, coach Bill Cowher).
I grew up nearby, I lived in the city, and even though I haven't been back in a few years, I read the Pittsburgh news sites and keep in touch as best I can. The rest is there for all to see.
Here are a few photos from the last incredible week, leading up to, during and after the Super Bowl. There are more photos on my Dreaming Up Daily site, here and here.
And commentaries here and here.
To celebrate this week, here's part of an essay on what the Steelers mean to Pittsburgh that I posted on Daily Kos, is included just below the photo scrapbook. There are other Steelers pieces on this blog, here and here (origin of the Terrible Towel.)
UPDATE: Here's some of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette account of the celebration downtown:
"You have supported us, win, lose or draw. So I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the memories you've given me, and the way you've taken me in." -- Jerome Bettis
Clinging to lampposts, perched in trees, hanging out of office windows, crowded on parking decks and standing 15-deep in places along the 1.2-mile parade route from Mellon Arena to Gateway Center were people of every size, age and color, a true Steeler Nation that had endured 26 years of dashed dreams and unfulfilled prayers while waiting to celebrate the championship. And celebrate they did.
Grandmothers unashamedly screamed out players' names as the 58-vehicle motorcade took two hours to navigate the route, led by the flag-bearing Pittsburgh Paramedic Honor Guard.
Grown men wearing the jerseys of their favorite players gaped and shouted as individual Steelers slowly moved past in the backs of chauffeured cars and vans.
"This is a rebirth," yelled Elaine Hatton, 59, of Center Township in Beaver County, who said she had attended all four previous Steelers Super Bowl parades. This one was different, though. "We died and were resurrected," she said.
Also in the parade were Gladys and Johnnie Bettis, parents of just-retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. "This is just the most incredible moment of my life," Mrs. Bettis said. "We knew winning the Super Bowl was big, but this is even bigger. I had no idea there were this many people in Pittsburgh."
Although many school districts warned that they would not grant excused absences to students attending the parade, thousands of youngsters apparently came down with black-and-gold flu.
Whitehall residents Kevin Walsh, his wife, Nancy, and three school-age children -- Shane, 16, Samantha, 14, and Cassidy, 9 -- waved from a sidewalk. "I got my three kids out of school because I think this is an important family event," he said. "I don't think missing one day of school is going to matter that much when they're going to have memories of this for a lifetime."
On a normal Sunday in football season, business in the Pittsburgh area is slow, especially during the game. It's a favorite time for non-fans to go to the mostly empty supermarket, though the game will be blaring from the p.a.
On this Super Bowl Sunday, come six pm eastern time, the city will just stop. The malls will actually close. It's not just that fewer customers are likely. Too many employees want to be watching the game.
The Pittsburgh Public Theatre has cancelled its Sunday night performance of "The Importance of Being Earnest." The Importance of Being Steelers takes precedence. The city's science and art museums, and even the zoo, are running programs and contests related to the Steelers. The game is the cultural event. The Super Bowl is the city's theatre.
By the time the game ends, portions of downtown Pittsburgh will be closed to motorized traffic. A big safe space is being created for the hoped-for celebration. There hasn't been one for a Super Bowl victory since 1980.
City of Champions
The Steelers grabbed the heart of Pittsburgh with its great teams of the 70s, at precisely the same time that the steel mills, the source of the city's identity, were shutting down.
The mills were failing, the Steelers were succeeding, preaching the blue collar ethic. Steel City became Steelers City.
From then until about 1990, the city of Pittsburgh lost half of its population. But people who left in this industrial diaspora retained close connections, if not also to family and the area itself, then certainly to the Steelers. That's why the Steelers can go to any NFL city in North America and play to Steelers fans in the stands.
The Steelers were and are part of everything else that is and was Pittsburgh.
Family: you see it in the photos in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online Steelers Nation collection: seven young cousins in Big Ben No. 7 jerseys, a father and his infant daughter in Steelers shirts, etc.
Community: you see it in the joyful faces in other P-G photos of the rally downtown last week. The Steelers organization and individuals within it, including the players, are out in the community and doing for the community.
Tradition: Pittsburgh doesn't much like people who put on airs, but they do appreciate special individuals. Sports heroes and TV news personalities, once Pittsburgh takes them into their hearts, they are royalty forever. Wherever they came from, many of them stay. Pittsburgh respects loyalty and commitment to the city, and they give loyalty back.
Football is itself a tradition there. Western Pennsylvania was once ruled by King Coal, but in recent decades by King Football. Friday nights are high school football, and everyone in town goes to the games. Why not? They've seen Danny Marino, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Bill Cowher, and many more later NFL stars. Saturday is college football, Pitt and Penn State and smaller colleges. Since the 70s, Sunday is Steelers time. It doesn't matter what church you go to or don't go to. Sunday at 1, everyone worships at the same shrine.
All of these, and more, come together in the Steelers. They are important to this city and its people as a symbol of winning with their values, but also of persevering in adversity.
The Steelers represent the heart of Pittsburgh, the will to keep on going in tough times, a celebration of its unique character, and the moments of victory that come into almost every life, at least once in awhile. It's very important to know how to celebrate them. This year, Pittsburgh and the Steelers did pretty well on all counts.